MABEL'S STRANGE PREDICAMENT
Keystone-Mutual 1015 ft., rel. Feb. 9, 1914 (Pajamas) dir. Henry Lehrman and Mack Sennett, auth. Henry Lehrman, cam. Hans Koenekamp cast: Mabel Normand, Charlie Chaplin, Chester Conklin, Alice Davenport, Harry McCoy, Al St. John, William Hauber finished: 1/20/1914
February 17, 2017 Subject:
Battle Royal at Hollywood Hotel
A great film to watch – and it is the first movie in which Chaplin plays the Tramp, although it was in ‘Kid Auto Races in Venice’ that audiences first saw Chaplin’s little man. Nearly all Keystone employees gathered round to watch Charlie’s initial performance on the set. Charlie’s lobby scene lasts a full 4 minutes, an unbelievable occurrence at Keystone, and title-lady Mabel barely appears in the shot! If you’re wondering what she’s saying in the lobby, she’s probably cursing Charlie, who goes on to steal the entire scene from ‘Our Cuteist Trick’ (as Sennett called her). From this time onward Chaplin was a coming star, and within three months he was the world’s most loved comedy character. We can see that the early Tramp was very mean and cruel - he’d kick women in the derriere or stomach, punch them in the face, and steal sweets from babies. Public offence was Keystone’s policy, but it seems, with help from tragedienne / comedienne Mabel, that pathos was introduced into the tramp’s character – starting, perhaps, with Mabel’s Busy Day.
In the film, Mabel gets her chance to reign in the upstairs part of the hotel, which becomes the Queen Bee’s kingdom. Here she runs rampant and gets into all kinds of scrapes over a dog, a ball and a bed. Eventually, Charlie invades the Kingdom, virtually molests pyjama-clad Mabel and kicks, slugs, and otherwise abuses everyone on that landing. Then there is the almost inevitable Keystone happy ending, when Charlie gets ejected (leaving the Tramp’s trappings behind) and the happy couple, Mabel/Harry McCoy, are reconciled. A cute touch occurs in some of the longer shots where Mabel’s sweet face is just seen peering out from under a bed where she’s hiding.
The making of the film was problematic, as Charlie became embroiled in an argument with the director, Pathe Lehrman (Chaplin’s arch enemy). Sennett stated that he had to intervene, and demote the ‘fake Frenchman’ to an extra, while he himself took over the film’s direction (look out for the sulking Pathe in the lobby and hanging around outside). Lehrman later tried to have Chaplin’s lobby scene cut, but failed.
There is no love lost between Chas and Mabel in this film. There seems to be a battle royal going on, as Mabel and Chas try to outdo each other, and, according to Sennett, he kept them apart afterwards for a couple of months, due to Mabel’s dislike of the egotistical Charlie. Eventually he had to bring his two greatest stars together in ‘Mabel At The Wheel’ and, as we know, Chaplin blew up when he found Mabel was directing. This was eventually sorted out, and both actors realised that they were not in direct competition, due to their opposite genders. Mabel did, however, continue to maul actresses she considered a threat to her crown. Minta Arbuckle told a story that Chaplin was a member of the ‘great unwashed’ and that Mabel hated getting too close, because of the tramp’s filthy clothes. The Keystone Girl eventually got around the problem by regularly supplying Chas with new shirts etc.